Forcing Spring Bulbs For Flowers In Cold Months

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Forcing Bulbs Indoors

Do you long for Spring color during the Winter? Have you tried forcing bulbs indoors so you have beautiful flowers in your house with very little effort?

Forcing bulbs is an easy technique that just requires a few materials and a little planning.

Forcing Bulbs Indoors

Most bulbs take 12-16 weeks to force, but you can do it in as little as 6 weeks. If you start them now, you’ll have spring color by the end of March. You can force most any kind of spring bulb, including:

  • Tulips
  • Hyacinth, both standard and Grape (Muscari)
  • Narcissus
  • Daffodils
  • Amaryllis
  • Crocus

There are some others you can work within shorter periods of time. We’ll talk about those in a bit.

Step 1 – Chill the Bulbs

Forcing bulbs begins with the cool period they need before they can bloom. Sometimes you can purchase pre-chilled bulbs, but it’s easy enough to do it on your own.

1. Remove bulbs from packaging and place them in muslin bags. An old dishcloth will work well, or any type of breathable fabric also works.

2. Choose a cool spot that won’t freeze (36-45°F is best). A basement, unheated garage, or even the vegetable drawer in your refrigerator works well for forcing bulbs. Leave them in this location to chill for 6-8 weeks, checking them occasionally. If they are allowed to freeze, the cell walls can be destroyed, leaving you with dead bulbs. Some of them may shrivel a bit, which is normal. Be sure to mark the bulbs so they are not mistaken for onions or garlic since some bulbs can be toxic if eaten.

Also, we recommend searching the FDA Poisonous Plant Database so you know which bulbs are toxic.

Step 2 – Pot the Bulbs

When the chill period is over, remove the bulbs from the cool place. Leave the papery layers on them unless it is a lot. If they are shriveled, soak the bulbs in warm water overnight. Then you can set up a growing pot for forcing bulbs indoors.

Some bulbs can be placed in soil and watered well, but most all of them work in a shallow dish with gravel and water.

1. Place about one cup of small pebbles in a clear vase or shallow dish. Add water until it reaches the tops of the rocks.

2. Place the bulb on top of the rocks, making sure the water comes up to the bottom of the bulb, but not covering the bulb.

3. Place in a sunny spot and wait for the magic to happen. Within a week or two you’ll see the first shoots, then flower buds.

Some bulbs, like amaryllis, will shoot up a flower spike that will bloom over many weeks. Enjoy the show!

Caring for Forced Bulbs

When the bloom period has ended, plant bulbs outside or in a pot. Don’t cut the dead leaves or flowers off until they turn yellow and dry out. The purpose of leaving the leaves until they are dry is to feed as much of the nutrients in the leaves back into the bulb. If they are cut off, the bulbs won’t have as much food and may not produce as many, or any blooms the next year.

Remember, when forcing bulbs, they should only be planted twice the depth of the bulb. Dig a hole the size of the bulb, add some aged compost and a bit of bone meal (high phosphorus for root production), and water well. Place the bulb in the hole, cover and tamp lightly, watering again.

Also, when forcing bulbs remember that they may or may not produce more blooms the same year. Easter lilies will bloom in the spring, and then often in July again before going to sleep for the rest of the year. In the fall, feed them a high phosphorus fertilizer, like a 15-30-15 and water well again.

Sometimes when bulbs are removed from the pot or ground they’ll have little bulbs or bulblets on the sides or bottom. These are new plants forming. Pull these off and plant them as well. In some bulbs, they may not be as obvious. One example is Asiatic lilies. They produce “scales” or sheets of bulbs. Peel these off and plant them. Yay for more plants!

Forcing Branches and Other Plants

For some faster color, you can force other things like cherry or forsythia branches. Simply cut a branch of a spring blooming shrub or tree, about 10 inches is good. Strip off any leaf or flower buds on the bottom and place in water. In a week or two, you’ll have leaves and flowers to enjoy for a while. If you get lucky and they root in the water (willows are great for this) then you can plant them.

One thing to note is that it doesn’t work for everything at all times. If the trees or shrubs are still dormant, they are not ready and won’t work. You’ll end up with sticks. If you don’t see anything in a few days, then start over.

Have you ever tried forcing bulbs in the spring? What are your favorites to force?

Other Ideas

You may also be interested in starting seeds indoors, growing sprouts, and growing microgreens!


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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